FPI Overnight Brief: June 19, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

The Trump administration has released a long-suppressed and classified government report disclosing U.S. clandestine action in Iran that outlines America's role in the country's 1953 coup, the State Department announced last week in a move that is likely to roil the Islamic Republic. – Washington Free Beacon
Iran's navy has conducted a joint exercise with a Chinese fleet near the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. – Associated Press
An American fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane Sunday after the Syrians struck local ground forces supported by the United States, the first time the American military has downed a Syrian aircraft since the start of the civil war in 2011, officials said. – New York Times
Israel has been regularly supplying Syrian rebels near its border with cash as well as food, fuel and medical supplies for years, a secret engagement in the enemy country’s civil war aimed at carving out a buffer zone populated by friendly forces. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A pair of top White House officials is pushing to broaden the war in Syria, viewing it as an opportunity to confront Iran and its proxy forces on the ground there, according to two sources familiar with the debate inside the Donald Trump administration. – Foreign Policy
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard claims it launched airstrikes into eastern Syrian on Sunday, according to the Guard's website. – The Hill
Syrian troops and allied militias met up with Iraqi forces at one crossing point along their shared border Sunday for the first time in years, in a step described as a major achievement by the Syrian military in their fight against the Islamic State group. – Associated Press
Iraqi forces on Sunday began penetrating the narrow streets and warrens of Mosul’s heavily populated old city, in the last phase of a monthslong battle against the Islamic State militants that American commanders have described as one of the toughest in urban warfare since World War II. – New York Times
U.S. intelligence officials are skeptical of Russia’s claim that its military killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with an airstrike in late May along with other senior commanders of the terrorist group, also known as ISIS and ISIL. – Washington Times
Gulf States
America’s closest Gulf allies have entangled the Trump administration in a longstanding rift in the Middle East as a group of Saudi-led nations pursues a realignment that risks further destabilizing the region and complicating the fight against Islamic State. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Efforts to end a two-week-old crisis in the Persian Gulf shifted to the U.S., as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson canceled a trip to Mexico to try to end a Saudi-led coalition’s isolation of Qatar. - Bloomberg
Ties between Saudi Arabia and Turkey have begun to fray due to sharply different policies toward Qatar. – Associated Press
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, plans to travel to the Middle East this week to try to advance U.S. efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, a White House official said Sunday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Three Palestinian men armed with knives and a improvised submachine gun carried out nearly simultaneous attacks in two locations outside the walls of the Old City in East Jerusalem on Friday, killing an Israeli border police officer as dusk was falling and the daily Ramadan fast was drawing to a close. – New York Times
Germany's defense minister hopes to start transferring planes serving in the international coalition against the Islamic State group from Turkey to Jordan by mid-July. – Associated Press


As American military officials complete plans that are likely to send several thousand additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a flurry of setbacks in the war have underscored both the imperative of action and the pitfalls of various approaches. – Washington Post
Former commanders and military scholars said that in sending troops before having a strategy, Mr. Trump has put the cart before the horse, eroded the tradition of civilian control over the military, and abdicated the president’s duty to announce and defend troop deployments. – New York Times
Seven American soldiers were shot and wounded by an Afghan commando on Saturday, the second such insider attack in a week, according to Afghan officials. – New York Times
Five Afghan police officers were killed and 18 people were wounded in a Taliban attack Sunday on a major base in the eastern province of Paktia, Afghan officials said. – New York Times
A spokeswoman for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Friday pushed back against news reports that he's already approved sending 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. – Military.com
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has dropped several big hints about what will be in his new strategy for Afghanistan, an almost 16-year war he told Congress this week that the U.S. is "not winning." According to one source, beyond tactical moves in the country, the plan involves focusing on terrorists just over the border in Pakistan – Washington Examiner
Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, called the United States' 16-year-long involvement in Afghanistan a "disgrace" and said some 10,000 to 20,000 additional troops were needed to win the war. – Fox News
The military has confirmed the death of a senior member and the destruction of a media hub of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria-Khorasan (ISIS-K), the Afghanistan branch of the terrorist group. – The Hill
Editorial: President Trump’s resolution to delegate decisions on troop levels in Afghanistan to the Pentagon is a worthy corrective to the approach of President Barack Obama, who micromanaged U.S. military forces in a way that badly undercut their ability to achieve their goals. – Washington Post
South/Central Asia
China is now staking a claim to supplanting the U.S. with tens of billions of dollars of investment, an embrace that promises Pakistan economic benefits and saddles it with debt—ensuring the relationship will last. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The nomination of candidates in Kyrgyzstan's presidential election officially started on June 15, and the vote already promises to be one of the most interesting and exciting elections yet seen in Central Asia. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
China’s anti-corruption watchdog has accused 14 top universities of ideological infractions after a months-long investigation, as the country’s ruling Communist party broadens its political control over educational institutions. – Financial Times
Chinese authorities are cracking down on academic fraud after an international medical journal retracted 107 Chinese-authored papers from the past five years, in the biggest case to date of fake peer reviews to endorse research. – Financial Times
Korean Peninsula
For more than a year, American diplomats have held secret talks in Pyongyang and European cities with North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator, hoping to free U.S. prisoners and even establish a diplomatic channel to constrain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The case raises many questions. How did Warmbier fall into this coma? Once he did, why did North Korea, a country with so few resources, spend 15 months keeping him alive instead of sending him home and getting the problem off its hands? – Washington Post
North Korea on Sunday accused United States officials of “mugging” its diplomats at Kennedy International Airport by seizing a diplomatic package they were carrying. – New York Times
Dennis Rodman has returned from a five-day trip to North Korea, but he did not meet with a man he once called his “friend for life” — Kim Jong Un. – Washington Post
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson is demanding answers from Pyongyang after an American held prisoner in North Korea for more than year was returned to the U.S. in a coma last week. – The Hill
South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in has vowed to scrap all existing plans for new nuclear power plants and cancel lifetime extensions for aged reactors, heralding a major overhaul for the country’s energy policy. – Financial Times
Fred Hiatt writes: I can’t stop thinking about Otto Warmbier. And the more I think about him, the more I remember all the smart people I’ve heard over the years explaining why the North Korean regime — the regime that “brutalized and terrorized” Otto, as his father said last week — shouldn’t be challenged or destabilized. – Washington Post
East Asia
The bodies of several missing American sailors were found in the flooded berthing compartments of the damaged naval destroyer Fitzgerald on Sunday, a day after it was rammed by a container ship four times its size off the Japanese coast, the Navy said in a statement and a Twitter post. – New York Times
A U.S. Coast Guard investigation team arrived in Japan Monday to start piecing together the sequence of events that led to the weekend collision between a Navy destroyer and a fully loaded container ship four times its size. – Washington Post
A top Navy admiral acknowledged Sunday that the destroyer Fitzgerald was in danger of sinking after a catastrophic collision off the coast of Japan Saturday and was saved by the "heroic efforts" of her crew that "had to fight very hard to keep the ship afloat." – Military Times
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will likely reshuffle his cabinet to try to bolster ratings battered by suspicions that he helped a friend get favored treatment for his business, media reported on Monday. - Reuters
Southeast Asia
US efforts to contest maritime claims by Beijing in the South China Sea remain unchanged under the administration of Donald Trump, according to a senior US naval officer. But while the US is continuing “freedom of navigation operations” (Fonops) by warships, the country’s military is being quieter about the strategy. – Financial Times
Vietnamese human rights bloggers and activists are being beaten and intimidated, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday, as it urged the Communist government to end attacks and hold those responsible accountable. - Reuters
Thailand aims to buy software to strengthen the military government's ability to track online networks and monitor online activity while planning a cyber law that will expand powers to pry into private communications. - Reuters
Although some of the Buddhist hardliners involved were arrested, human rights monitors say the incident shows how Aung San Suu Kyi's 14-month-old civilian administration is struggling to tackle discrimination against Muslims. - Reuters
ISIS in Southeast Asia
Three Southeast Asian nations under threat from Islamic State-linked militants launched joint maritime patrols in an effort to stop a conflict in the southern Philippines from spreading to other parts of the region. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Islamist extremists are yet to fulfil their dream of a caliphate in Southeast Asia but each day that passes in the bloody, weeks-long siege of a Philippine city is a warning of their growing strength. – Financial Times
Southeast Asia's jihadis who fought by the hundreds for the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria now have a different battle closer to home in the southern Philippines. It's a scenario raising significant alarm in Washington. – Associated Press


While all options are on the table in the Navy’s push to field a 355-ship fleet, when it comes to reactivating ships in the inactive fleet, the service is realistically only looking at seven decommissioned Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates (FFG-7), Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told USNI News on Thursday. – USNI News
The U.S. Navy has found $500 million to buy a second Littoral Combat Ship in next year’s budget after scrounging that was required because the vessel was left out of the Trump administration’s proposed budget sent to Congress last month. - Bloomberg
The U.S. Air Force has reorganized how it handles space, creating a three-star billet as deputy chief of staff for space operations. – Defense News
The Army and Textron are adding new computer processing power and cyber-hardening technology to the current inventory of ground control stations operating drones in combat, as a way to better defend against enemy "hacking," "jamming" and "interference" with video feeds, service officials said. – Scout Warrior
A congressional watchdog report has recommended the U.S. Navy develop a new cost estimate for a future aircraft carrier being built in Virginia. – Associated Press
Jerry Hendrix writes: Without a large enough, lethal enough and long-range carrier air wing the super carrier will not be the preeminent symbol of its national power. If the aircraft are not capable of penetrating the enemy’s advanced defenses, if there are not enough of them to sustain the fight, or lack the basic mission tanking ability to enable them to reach their targets, then all other basic assumptions regarding American naval power are placed in doubt. Given the nature of international competition today, doubt is not a word the nation should wish to have associated with its Navy and its Navy’s carriers. – Breaking Defense
Strategic Issues
An extended shutdown of the nation’s only scientific laboratory for producing and testing the plutonium cores for its nuclear weapons has taken a toll on America’s arsenal, with key work postponed and delays looming in the production of components for new nuclear warheads, according to government documents and officials. – Washington Post
The War
Editorial: New York remains a pre-eminent terror target because of its size and importance as a symbol of American culture and commerce. The recent attacks in Britain show the jihadist threat to open societies hasn’t abated, and democracies need tools to defend themselves without offering terrorists a road map to thwart them. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)


Facing off behind these front lines and shaping each side’s grand strategy are two of this generation’s most influential officers in Washington and Moscow: U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov…They haven’t ever met. But each—like Patton and Rommel or John Le Carré’s fictional Smiley and Karla—has made a career of studying his opponent’s moves. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Last year, while hacking Democrats’ emails and working to undermine the American presidential election, the Russian government also granted extensions to six trademarks for Mr. Trump that had been set to expire. The Trump trademarks, originally obtained between 1996 and 2007 for hotels and branding deals that never materialized, each had terms that were coming to an end in 2016. – New York Times
The White House plans to work with House Republicans on administration-friendly changes to the Senate’s overwhelmingly bipartisan bill that slaps new sanctions on Russia and curbs President Donald Trump’s power to ease penalties against Moscow, according to a senior administration official. - Politico
Reports that the Russians have an advanced new cyber weapon designed to penetrate and cripple opponents' electrical grids, and perhaps other critical infrastructure, have struck a Cold War note with lawmakers. Yet, it was greeted as old news by cyber professionals. – Washington Examiner
Emmanuel Macron was projected to win a large parliamentary majority Sunday, with the centrist party he founded little more than a year ago triumphing at the polls. – Washington Post
As the world changes and more attention shifts to Europe, planners are exploring the possibility of expanding the gear cache stored in the caves — possibly even doubling or tripling its capacity. The stockpile is stored and maintained under a bilateral agreement between the Marine Corps and Norway that dates back to the Cold War. – Military.com
U.S. and British troops have carried out the first large-scale NATO defensive drill on the border between Poland and Lithuania, rehearsing for a possible scenario in which Russia might try to sever the Baltic states from the rest of the Western alliance. - Reuters
Douglas Murray writes: Over recent decades Europe has made a hasty effort to redefine itself. As the world came in, we became wedded to “diversity.” As terrorism grew and more migrants arrived, public opinion in Europe began to harden. Today “more diversity” remains the cry of the elites, who insist that if the public doesn’t like it yet, it is because they haven’t had enough of it. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
United Kingdom
The authorities in Britain said on Monday that they were treating an early morning attack near a mosque in London as a possible act of terrorism, amid fears of retaliation for several recent assaults in the country attributed to Islamist extremists. – New York Times
Prime Minister Theresa May faced a ballooning crisis at home a day before negotiations between the U.K. and the European Union begin, with critics accusing her of fumbling the government’s response to a London apartment tower fire that left at least 58 people dead. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
U.K. Treasury chief Philip Hammond sought to pour cold water on any notion that the ruling party’s recent election setback could change Britain’s negotiating stance in the coming Brexit talks, saying the U.K. would “definitely” leave the European Union’s single market and customs union. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A two-year investigation by BuzzFeed News has now uncovered explosive evidence pointing to Russia that the police overlooked. A massive trove of documents, phone records, and secret recordings shows Young was part of a circle of nine men, including the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who all died suspiciously on British soil after making powerful enemies in Russia. – Buzz Feed
Editorial: Historians will remember that achievement more than the commonplace political scandals that engulfed Kohl later in his long career. Rarely does a leader change his nation as dramatically for the better as Helmut Kohl did. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Josef Joffe writes: There is no “Fourth Reich,” as so many worried back then. Helmut Kohl, who rose from provincial pol to all-but-eternal chancellor achieved the impossible: a strong, indeed preponderant Germany, yet a power house safely “socialized” in a myriad European and Atlantic institutions. – The American Interest
The spate of ongoing investigations into allegations of ties between Russia and the Trump White House could create enough political pressure within the international community to “crack” the NATO alliance, a former top U.S. official said Sunday. – Washington Times
While the American military is forging ahead with a new helicopter replacement program, Europe is lagging behind in exploiting the potential of its helicopter sector, according to the European Helicopter Association, the voice of the majority of helicopter operators in Europe. – Defense News


United States of America
Defense Secretary James Mattis is facing his first significant decision in the military’s sexual revolution legacy left by the last commander in chief, Barack Obama. – Washington Times
It is the global policy capital that lives and dies by politics and prides itself on networking. But nearly five months after US president Donald Trump stepped into the Oval Office, diplomats are still scrambling for Washington DC’s chief commodity — access. – Financial Times
US lawmakers are launching a fresh effort to outlaw “shell companies” amid fears that Russia is exploiting such opaque corporate vehicles to spread its influence. – Financial Times
Josh Rogin reports: Dozens of young minority and female State Department recruits received startling and unwelcome news last week: They would not be able to soon join the Foreign Service despite having been promised that opportunity. Their saga is just the latest sign that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s rush to slash the size of the State Department without a plan is harming diplomacy and having negative unintended effects. – Washington Post
Interview: National security is front and center in people’s minds right now—from the continuing fight with ISIS to dealing with provocative moves by Russia. The Wall Street Journal’s executive Washington editor, Gerald F. Seib, spoke with John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Interview: The national-security picture is crowded and complex, and made even more so by questions about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. To shed light on these issues, Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke with Wall Street Journal Executive Washington Editor Gerald F. Seib. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
David Landry writes: Corruption erodes public trust in government institutions and harms democracy. It drives the perception that the government doesn’t work for the people — unless they can line the right pockets. By fueling discontent, it also leads to political instability. While the Trump administration might not share the values that made the war against corruption central to Democratic and Republican administrations in the past, let’s hope it can come to understand why fighting corruption on a global scale matters. – Washington Post
Congress’ Foreign Policy Role
President Trump threatens to upend the post-World War II foreign policy order, but Congress is working to ensure that American foreign policy remains rooted in the trans-Atlantic alliance against traditional rivals like Russia. – New York Times
Editorial: Congress rarely takes the lead in foreign affairs, but senators in both parties have risen to the occasion in recent weeks, exhibiting an uncommonly independent and disciplined response to the tumult of President Trump’s administration. The latest votes and hearings are a welcome sign that Congress can act as a responsible counterweight to Mr. Trump’s more erratic impulses. – Washington Post
While Mr. Trump isn’t the first president to shield the long-troubled steel industry from imports, none has made steel protectionism so central to his political persona, branding prior import limits insufficient. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Interview: Following the Brexit vote in the U.K. and Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election, nations are rethinking how they should trade with each other At the forefront of this debate in the U.S. is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. He sat down with The Wall Street Journal’s financial editor, Dennis K. Berman, to discuss how the Trump administration views trade relations with China and the rest of the world. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Russian Election Interference
President Trump put fresh pressure on the second-highest-ranking official at the Justice Department on Friday, raising concerns among the president’s critics that Rod J. Rosenstein could be in danger of being fired, while others argued that if he stays he should recuse himself from his role overseeing the special-counsel probe that has engulfed the White House. – Washington Post
Democrats have grown increasingly concerned that oversight of the special counsel’s Russia probe will be wrested away from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — either through recusal or dismissal. – Washington Times
A personal lawyer for President Donald Trump maintained Sunday that the president wasn’t being investigated for possible obstruction of justice, contrary to recent news reports, arguing that Mr. Trump would have been alerted to any such development. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The Senate and House intelligence committees are set on Wednesday to hold two open hearings examining Russian hacking efforts during the 2016 election, featuring testimony from current and former Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials as well as state election directors. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A bill introduced by congressional Democrats would create a “National Russian Threat Response Center” following new allegations concerning Moscow’s role in last year’s U.S. presidential election. – Washington Times
Special counsel Robert Mueller hasn't decided whether to investigate President Trump as part of the Russia probe, according to a report on Sunday. – Washington Examiner
Editorial: American politics is divisive and dysfunctional as it is. Imagine what it will be like if millions of Americans conclude that a presidential election is being overturned by an elite consensus across the vast ideological and cultural divide running all the way from the New York Times to the Washington Post. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
FPI Fellow James Kirchick writes: When the dust settles, when the special investigations conclude and the politicians have their say, American political institutions will strengthen their cybersecurity measures and schools will teach students media literacy to dampen the impact of fake news. But there is no way to stop a shameless narcissist from exploiting public anger. No way to stop a ratings-obsessed media from offering him a platform. And no way to force an apathetic populace to care about a foreign adversary’s war on truth. – Los Angeles Times
President Trump praised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday for Canada’s announcement it will bolster its military spending, according to the White House. – The Hill
Latin America
Mexico’s most prominent human rights lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption activists have been targeted by advanced spyware sold to the Mexican government on the condition that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists. – New York Times
A strong explosion rocked one of the busiest shopping centers in Colombia’s capital on Saturday, killing three people and injuring nine others, the authorities there said. – Associated Press
In the tatty state capital Barinas, where Chavez studied and lived as a youth, the trouble has been far worse. Many people have turned on the ruling Socialist Party in a poor region that was once their heartland of support. - Reuters
President Trump, denouncing what he called his predecessor’s “terrible and misguided” opening to Cuba, outlined a new policy Friday that seeks to curb commercial dealings with the government in Havana and to limit the newfound freedom of U.S. citizens to travel to the island. – Washington Post
Central to President Trump’s plans to peel back his predecessor’s detente with Cuba is the idea that there is “good” and “bad” U.S. travel. The United States, Trump believes, can tightly regulate American vacations to deprive the Castro government of dollars and redirect the money to the island’s growing class of entrepreneurs. – Washington Post
The businessman turned chief executive promised during the campaign to roll back some of President Barack Obama’s policies aimed at warming relations with America’s Caribbean neighbor. In doing so before his 200th day in office, Trump defied the wishes of some lawmakers and corporate titans. – Roll Call
Many Cuban exiles in Miami are embracing the changes President Donald Trump announced Friday to his predecessor’s policies of engagement with the communist island - but some want even more. – Associated Press
Editorial: Mr. Trump’s heated emphasis on Cuban repression, and his linking any further rapproachment to political reform, replace Mr. Obama’s cool assurances that constructive engagement will gradually, gradually breed more freedom and prosperity. In our view, a little more impatience about democracy isn’t such a bad thing. – Washington Post


Four gunmen stormed a camping resort outside Mali’s capital on Sunday, killing two people before escaping in a shootout with soldiers from an antiterrorism unit, a security ministry official said. – New York Times
Malian security forces have killed five militants involved in an attack on a luxury resort popular with Western expatriates outside Mali's capital Bamako, the security minister said on Monday. - Reuters
Five female suicide bombers killed 12 people and wounded 11 in northeast Nigeria's Borno state, birthplace of the Islamist militant Boko Haram insurgency, police said on Monday. - Reuters

Democracy and Human Rights

Interview: Malinowski spent the last few years pushing President Obama from the inside on human rights as his assistant secretary of state; a former Washington director of Human Rights Watch, he is now leading the resistance from the outside to Trump and what he calls his “obscene” fondness for the world’s tyrants. - Politico

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
Read More